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Peek A Boo

11 May 2017

“It was only a movie”, you assure yourself as the credits roll. But then…what was that sound? You could’ve sworn you just saw a…no, it couldn’t be. It was only a bump in the night. But you can’t seem to shake the feeling that it almost sounded like footsteps.

Ghost stories are often brushed aside as no more than fanciful legends. Religious-themed story lines, exorcisms, creepy nursery rhymes, hovering figures in sheets – these are Hollywood tropes. So, if you saw a ghost and it didn’t look like it was straight out of The Exorcist, would you recognise it? If you did, would your first explanation be the paranormal? After all, no two ‘spirit sighting’ stories are the same, and manifestations are reported in as many different ways as there are tellers.

If not the classic full-bodied apparition, they can appear as orbs of light, clouds of smoke and even animal manifestations, as in old mythology. So, how certain can you really be that you haven’t already come into contact with the paranormal? When our universe is only made of 4.5% baryonic matter (the ordinary and visible stuff you and I are made of), and the rest is largely unknown, anything seems possible.

“Some claim that if you look across to the end of Platform 10, you can see that one of the fisherman never left.”

Perhaps I’m biased, but Melbourne seems to have some of the most interesting local haunts. You’ve probably heard of the graveyard under the Queen Victoria Market. But what about stories of wandering spectral nurses in QV, or ghostly apparitions at Flinders Street Station after dark? The QV building used to be home to the Queen Victoria Hospital. Ever been to Harvey Norman upstairs? That’s the location of the old Children’s Ward. Here, QV night workers, as well as day-time security staff, are reported to have experienced ghostly sightings. Most of these appear as nurses pointing up to the Children’s Ward, with one worker, Kevin Phillips, claiming to have even spoken to one of the ghosts. If that’s not enough to get your spine tingling, the same nurse is reported by different workers to have said, “This is where they keep the bastard children.”

Fisherman’s Bend, near Flinders Street Station, is the location of many deaths along the Yarra River. Some claim that if you look across to the end of Platform 10, you can see that one of the fisherman never left. George, the fisherman in question, still looks out, melancholic, over the Yarra. Though breaking bread with George may prove a tough act to follow, he isn’t the only (ghostly) fish in the sea.

Renowned opera singer, Frederick Federici, is rumoured to be the friendly poltergeist of the Princess Theatre. It is said that he died of a heart attack after singing his final note in the 1888 production of Faust. Eerily, he may have been aware his final moments were imminent. Reportedly, before his performance, he said, “I will give a fine performance to-night, but it will kill me.” He was dead by the time the cast was due to give their final bows. However, many performers who were later told of his passing said, confused, “He’s just been onstage and taken the bows with us.”  Since then, theatre staff have claimed to see Federici sitting in the third-row dress circle. And so there, on opening nights, a seat is left empty for him. The show must go on.

Just like when the horror movie credits start rolling and the story lingers in your mind, so do these legends. But the tales may all just be hearsay or figments of the imagination, so before you jump to conclusions, consider that there are also many real-world explanations for reported paranormal happenings. For example, neurological phenomena can induce visual, auditory, olfactory and even multi-sensory hallucinations. These are most often associated with schizophrenia, but may also affect perfectly well individuals. They can be caused by sleep deprivation, drug use, migraines or even plain old stress. For others, paranormal experiences may be the result of what an individual exposes themselves to, or what their brain takes notice of. You know when you’ve heard of something before and then it starts popping up everywhere? That’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. So, if you’re a horror movie enthusiast who subjects yourself to all sorts of ghostly tales, your brain can easily convince itself that you see or hear paranormal phenomena in real life. Perhaps you want to believe in the afterlife because you fear death. Maybe your brain is using anthropomorphism to try and make sense of objects, sounds or shadows you don’t understand. It could be that your gas heater is leaking carbon monoxide, known to cause all sorts of hallucinations. There are numerous possibilities that need to be considered when presented with tales of the paranormal.

It also doesn’t take much digging to find many of the spooky snaps that float around the internet. But with high-end digital photography and advanced editing software, it is hard to say whether or not the captured phenomena is rigged, if there are problems with the camera or whether these ‘apparitions’ are just a trick of the light. Either way, those photos are still enough to give you the creeps.

But who’s to say that those images, videos and testimonials you passed off as ‘just a bit weird’ or ‘off’ are the truths among the webs of falsities…and perhaps you did hear footsteps in the night.

So…who you gonna call?